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BW Businessworld

LinkedIn Gets It

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I've always believed LinkedIn, that one professional powerhouse of a social network that everyone under-uses, needs a usability-design makeover.  It's got all sorts of features that are way too below the surface and I find that even if someone points out what I'm looking for, next time around, I forget and have to start all over again to look for a specific function.  Compared with other networks, LinkedIn loses out on an intuitive, contextual, compelling experience. 

The user experience received a booster shot of appeal when LinkedIn came up with a very cool Android app which, in some modes, reminds me of the tiled look from Pulse – and all the other apps that have creatively copied the look. Even now, on a large-screen Android touch phone, the app looks better than the version available so far for the iPhone.

And now, finally the iPhone app has received a makeover and is also universal to become the official app for the iPad, complete with Retina Display support. When an app or website looks good, the invitation to use increases exponentially. And there's a stark difference between the website – which still feels more like a website than a network – and the apps for both Android and now the iPad and iPhone.

Now that the app is in place, here are the five best things about it:

As you start up the app, you don't have to waste a moment wondering what to do and where to look. It's as simple as three options: browse through updates and news, check your own profile and updates, and see what's in your inbox. The opening interface is clean and self explanatory. A lot of the deeper things you can get into on the site such as view stats, company pages etc won't work on the app, but the top level activities are right there.

Because the app is simpler it's that much quicker. It is also speedier on the iPad (or Android devices) because these touch devices offer a different experience with browsing speed. The clunkiness of a website is out of the equation. When you can get to what you want without having to wait impatiently, you would obviously tend to use the network more readily.

At LinkedIn, they figured that 22 per cent users now access the site via mobile devices. This number is up from 8 per cent a year ago and will only continue to go up as the tablet and smartphone market increases. If LinkedIn wants users to spend more time on the site, it has to get mobility spot-on. They've also found that people access the site late morning -- coffee time -- and there's another slot in the evening. That's why the app focuses on making content more browsable and lean-back. The updates and news in particular are almost Flipboard-like. Looking through your messages too you can slide out a left bar All in all, the experience is now 'tablety' and not just that of a website on a tablet. The app also has a more visual feel, which improves its browsability.

On the iPad app, LinkedIn has tried to bring up front, the information users find most relevant or interesting. The calendar syncing feature is one of these. Link your calendar from the phone or tablet and you can get information on people you are planning to meet. Another piece of information that's right up front is who viewed your profile. Obviously users like that one, whether it's useful or not.

Sharing on the LinkedIn site isn't exactly difficult, but it just got easier with the app. When sharing options are at hand and just a matter of a touch, engagement could go up. The Groups are also accessible without having to look too hard in the minimalistic interface of the app.

LinkedIn has always had to walk that tightrope between being a job seeker's network and a full professional one. To get users to spend more time within, they will have to do still more to make the network more compelling. And this is a good, if somewhat late, beginning.